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Ep. 118 - The Custom Solution Obsession is Your Limitation with Ryan Lunka

Ryan is the co-founder and CEO at Blended Edge, which helps software teams deliver integrations faster, easier and more cost effectively. 

He’s a former head of product and COO for an integration software vendor who served digital commerce and retail merchants. 

He’s an expert in integration, CX technology, martech, and digital commerce and is the author of Adobe Experience Manager: Classroom in a Book, published in 2013, by Adobe Press. 

In This Conversation We Discuss: 

  • [00:00] Intro
  • [01:00] Custom vs off-the-shelf
  • [03:25] Ryan’s Ecom history
  • [05:25] Sponsor: Avalara avalara.com/honest 
  • [06:15] Custom built shouldn’t be the first step
  • [07:57] You don’t have to reinvent the wheel
  • [09:35] Searching for custom solution can limit you
  • [10:44] Theories to improve prioritization
  • [12:11] Sponsor: Rewind rewind.com/honest
  • [13:21] “Shiny object syndrome”
  • [15:05] When would a custom solution work?
  • [18:59] Websites does not replace the salesperson
  • [19:58] B2B using DTC website formats
  • [21:09] Sponsor: Klaviyo klaviyo.com/honest
  • [22:39] Understanding the tech ecosystems
  • [24:02] Opposing the “IBM approach”
  • [26:08] The Shopify Partner ecosystem
  • [28:05] Sponsor: Gorgias gorgias.grsm.io/honest
  • [28:55] Questions to ask when choosing apps
  • [29:52] Good app match and open API
  • [31:06] What are tech stacks?
  • [32:13] Having open API helps with workflow
  • [33:35] Human error and scale considerations
  • [34:28] Where Blended Edge can help
  • [35:27] 2 types of data movement
  • [37:46] How to find Ryan

Resources:

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 Transcript:

Ryan Lunka  

There is no such thing as one technology that is perfect and going to solve all of your problems. And I don't care what their salesperson tells you. It does not exist. 

Chase Clymer  

Welcome to Honest Ecommerce, where we're dedicated to cutting through the BS and finding actionable advice for online store owners. 

I'm your host, Chase Clymer. And I believe running an online business does not have to be complicated or a guessing game. 

If you're struggling with scaling your sales, Electric Eye is here to help. To apply to work with us visit electriceye.io/connect to learn more. Now let's get on with the show.

Hey everybody. Welcome back to another episode of Honest Ecommerce. I'm your host, Chase Clymer. 

And today, welcoming to the show an integration expert, local here to Columbus, Ohio. 

Ryan leads Blended Edge. And their team helps make integrations less painful is what he's telling me before the break here. 

Ryan, welcome to the show.

Ryan Lunka  

Thanks for having me on. Glad to be here. 

Chase Clymer  

Awesome. So we spoke on Unprepared before and quickly realized that our conversation could have gone full bore. 

We could have just been talking forever about the points we were touching on there. 

So I wanted to focus our conversation today and  expand on this idea of custom versus off-the-shelf solutions and the pros and cons of them. 

So with that, I guess, let people know why they should give a crap about what you have to say and your history in the solutions ecosystem and integrations in general.

Ryan Lunka  

Sure, we definitely just scratched the surface in that conversation. So let's even put Ecommerce aside for a second. 

In any business whatsoever, you have a choice of buying something off-the-shelf to solve a problem that you have or to build software custom to solve the problem that you have. 

And then there's a gray area in between where a lot of people fall where you buy something and then you have to customize it or tweak it. 

And especially when you're up in the enterprise, that's a little bit more common. But if you look at those 2 binary choices, a lot of the time a company will make the decision to build something --excuse me-- because they believe they have some sort of a fundamentally new requirement, or their business process is so unique that nothing commercial is going to solve it or, whatever reason. 

And I would posit that the vast majority of the time, that is probably not the correct answer. The likelihood that you are trying to do something so novel --especially if you're a younger company that's just getting your feet under you that requires you to build custom software-- is pretty low. 

Now if you're a software company, that's different. If you're building a product that says, "Hey, we're gonna solve this problem in some new way." Then yeah, you're going to build your own software custom. But if you're any kind of business, that's just using software, it's highly unlikely. 

So take Ecommerce, for instance. We have Ecommerce platforms now. We have Shopify, we have Magento, we have BigCommerce… We have 500,000 other ones out there. 

Your Google for a day is finding these things. If you decide you're going to build a checkout flow from scratch, I would be surprised if you have a reason that justifies it. 

Chase Clymer  

Oh yeah. 

Ryan Lunka  

So that's a good way to look at it. 

Chase Clymer  

Absolutely. Before we dive any deeper into that, let's talk about your history real quick, and let people know the chops that you have in this environment and the knowledge that you're bringing to the table here. 

Ryan Lunka  

Yeah totally. For about 6 or 7 years after I finished up at Ohio University, I was an implementation consultant for enterprise software. I'm mostly implementing Adobe’s enterprise technology stack. 

And at first, that was a goofy Frankenstein of flash that they're trying to put into the enterprise and this PDF workflow solution called LiveCycle which I think is still around in some shape or form. 

But as Adobe started to acquire technologies like Omniture , a company called Day Software that had a product called CQ5 and a bunch of other digital marketing products for the enterprise. 

They built this really interesting marketing tech/digital marketing suite that now is --in the enterprise-- is probably the leading one on the market. The leading products on the market. 

It's almost like Salesforce for digital marketing for big companies. So I used to [be] first just as a developer on the teams, implementing... 

Then [I went on]leading teams and then leading strategy for implementations of that product suite primarily around the content management system, which is now called Adobe Experience Manager

So did that for, like I said, 6 or 7 years. And then I joined a startup here in town that did integration for retailers and Ecommerce companies. 

First, I ran digital marketing for them --which was a little bit of a black sheep role for me-- and then I ran product for a few years, and eventually was the CEO for a few years. So that was really where I got way into the weeds... 

Not just the Ecommerce and retail requirements and things that are happening in that world that are fundamentally changing things, helping companies implement omnichannel, retailing workflows, things like that. 

But I got a pretty good chunk of experience. They're working in very, very specifically a software integration context. And that's where I spent all my time again, another 6 or 7years until, till we started Blended Edge pretty recently last year.

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Chase Clymer  

Awesome. So for over a decade, maybe a dozen years now, you've been bolting together off-the-shelf technologies. 

Ryan Lunka  

Absolutely. And sometimes it's ones like Shopify that require a little bit less bolting. And then sometimes it's one like Adobe Experience Manager that is very, very much a platform and there's a lot of bolting that goes on top of it. 

Chase Clymer  

Okay. And so I guess first and foremost, let's just tell people the facts... If you're going to take one thing around out of this conversation today, don't custom build something, if you haven't sold anything. 

Ryan Lunka  

Yeah, I think that's a good perspective to have as well. 

If you're coming up with the business plan or you're early in the business, you want to demonstrate the business model first and the sales model and the market direction before you start building software, which is an expensive, complicated endeavor. 

Chase Clymer  

Yeah. Obviously, most of the audience here [are] merchants and I believe a lot of them are now on Shopify because everyone's been praising it. But there are some consultants out there. 

And even if you're approaching maybe a SaaS type idea, the “no code” ecosystem, you can get an MVP off the ground and probably get VC funding with a no code solution these days. 

Ryan Lunka  

Oh absolutely. Yeah, it's crazy how effective some of those things are, too. I played around with Bubble IO

You could build a SaaS application that actually serves customers --a business enterprise application-- on Bubble and you have to know almost no coding. It's almost like using WordPress, except it's... Frankly, it's a little easier. 

Chase Clymer  

Yeah. All that stuff is... If I wasn't in Ecommerce, that's probably where I'd be. I'd be in that no code, saying... 

So much stuff that at the agency I've got... Sometimes we like to politely say "Frankensteined" together, but I mean... 

Ryan Lunka  

Mm-hmm.

Chase Clymer  

Zapier, I am a magician these days and we... A lot of cool processes are in place with that. 

Now, I've been playing around with a bunch of the other automation software. But that's getting a little bit away from the point and the topic which is, if you're going to start a business these days... 

And we touched on this during Unprepared. You're not reinventing the wheel. You are fundamentally not doing anything that someone else probably hasn't done. And there are those edge cases. 

You got your Bezos's is and your Apples and all those things. And those are going to do what they do. But 90% of businesses are solving a problem that's been solved before and they're putting their own special spin on it. 

And there's going to be a solution out there or a stack. Nowadays, with API’s, you can build a stack that solves for the solution you're trying to provide in the way that works. 

Ryan Lunka  

Yeah. And I'd say that's especially true in a domain like Ecommerce or retail, which is really what Ecommerce is. It's just a digital version of retail, which is a business model that's been around for hundreds, maybe thousands of years. It's not a new thing, by any means. 

So if you're gonna start a company that sells merchandise, you're really, really, really unlikely to be inventing something new in terms of [a] business model. 

So that's where you really should start, by looking to... Look into best practice stacks or technology approaches that are out there. 

Start with the simplest possible one you can to be able to demonstrate that the product you're trying to sell has market viability, the brand you're trying to put forth as market viability, all [those kinds of things]. And just make the technology less a part of the problem. 

Chase Clymer  

Yeah, the technology piece is something I see a lot of merchants or younger entrepreneurs getting held up on. "But I need this piece... I need to do this exact thing." And they're making that the barrier when honestly, you need to go out there and focus on sales. You need to sell the thing. 

Ryan Lunka  

Yeah.

Chase Clymer  

If it's got product-market fit, if it's solving a problem, and there's actually a customer base out there. 

Go sell it and the customers will tell you how to improve everything. Your assumptions... You're putting limiting factors in it [if you're] saying that you need something to be super custom or it needs to work a certain way. Usually it's never the case.

Ryan Lunka  

Yeah. Yeah, I think you're totally right. Honestly, I think sometimes it's... Especially with an early business. It's a little bit of just a lack of focus, or maybe even a "I need to work on a thing. And here's a problem I can work on." 

And if you prioritize a problem like "How do I handle this really, really specific thing that I want to do, and I have in my head, that is super important?" You actually might be spending a lot of time on something that shouldn't be prioritized very high on your list. 

And I think it's just a discipline that you have to learn to put aside the things that aren't that important that might take a lot of time. And to prioritize the things that are most important. [What's] interesting is it's a different application of the idea, but we use a... 

I think it's called a 9-Box Framework for helping software companies prioritize their integration opportunities. And what that means is not that important, but you have a 2-axis scale and then 9 boxes --high, medium, low-- in both directions on each of these. 

And you prioritize... Well, 1 axis is your impact that it's going to have on your business and 1 axis is effort. How much is it going to take in terms of time, money, etc, to get it done, and you break it up into those separate 9 boxes and put the things you need to do in those boxes. 

And there's actually a theory for how you should prioritize which ones you do in what order. It's a little bit counterintuitive, you should actually be kind regardless of impact, focusing on the low effort ones first, because you can get them out and have them creating value for your business, whether it's big or small, as quickly as possible. 

Having a whole bunch of new things out that are relatively small, is a lot better than grinding your gears on something that is high impact, but it takes a really, really long time. 

So it's just a good methodology for sorting out all the things you need to do and picking and choosing, using a rough outline for how those things stack up against one another. 

Chase Clymer  

Awesome. 

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Chase Clymer  

So I got two things to say there. First is if you have any resources on this framework that we could share in the show notes or anything like that.

Ryan Lunka  

I have a blog post on our website about it. It's just very particularly written toward prioritizing integration projects. 

But even if you ignore the technical part of what that really means, it does explain the framework a little bit that might be helpful. 

Chase Clymer  

Awesome.

Ryan Lunka  

I'd have to dig up to see if I have anything else about using a framework like that. I'm not even really sure what it's called, I just know that it exists and I've used it before. 

Chase Clymer  

Awesome. Yeah. I mean, this will come out... We'll have a few weeks. So maybe it gives you some time to polish it up and make it better. But regardless, it's gonna be linked in the show notes and you'll be able to find it. 

And then in line with that. I think founders and entrepreneurs, we all have this... We all have shiny object syndrome. And I think as you mature as an entrepreneur, you get better at ignoring those things. 

So when you're younger, you always want to try out tools and dabble with things and experiment. And that's the fun that it comes with the territory. It's fun, but it's counterintuitive. It is a waste of time.

The things that are going to have the most impact are going to be the ones that are unfortunately increasing sales most of the time, especially in Ecommerce. What is going to sell more products? That's where you need to focus all your energy. 

Ryan Lunka  

Oh yeah. And you and I both probably fall victim to it as well. Starting to spend on something that you don't need to. You have to check yourself and go "Okay, wait a minute. That's cool. Let's put that aside. 

We'll decide how important that is, etc." I think it's important to leave a little bit open for experimentation or learning or things like that. But it's almost how you look at making a risky investment. 

You're gonna buy a stock that you think might pop off or something like that. You don't want to invest more money than you could stand to lose. Well for the experimental stuff, you don't want to invest more time than you can stand to lose. 

So if it turns out to not be worth anything at all, no value of the business, nothing you're gonna go forward with, the time spent on it wasn't so detrimental that you wish you had that back and had spent that elsewhere. 

And frankly, that means you're probably spending a relatively small amount of time on those sorts of things so that you can focus on sales and build the fundamentals of the business, which again, are probably not that unique to what you're doing.

Chase Clymer  

So let's go back to the topic of discussion, it is custom versus off the shelf. And let's talk specifically about Ecommerce platforms. And then we'll talk about more of the ancillary features and ecosystem there as well. 

So we've said you don't need custom at the beginning when do you believe that a custom solution would make sense? Or does it ever make sense for your Ecommerce website itself?

Ryan Lunka  

I have a hard time thinking that it ever makes sense. Nothing is 100% true. So I'm sure there are models out there where it does justify building something very, very custom. 

But there's so much variability in the software products that are out there and options for how you can customize on top of an already available commercial solution, that it's just really, really hard to find something where that isn't the case. 

Now that said, there is a pretty wide range between signed up for a Shopify store and made a couple tweaks to a free template --and either did a Magento store or a Shopify Plus or something a little bit more sophisticated-- and then paid an agency to do a very well thought through, pretty heavily customized template that really takes into account your branding and some unique aspects of the experience that you want to have on the website. 

And depending on where you are in the maturity of your business, and your understanding of customer needs, and stuff like that, you have to figure out where you are on that spectrum. But it's still... 

Even when you're at the heavy end of customization there, you're not building custom software. You're not writing custom checkout flows and payment processors and reinventing how faceted navigation through an Ecommerce site is supposed to work; those are all fundamentals that you get out of the box for a platform. 

Chase Clymer  

Yeah. There's a great episode that came out a few weeks ago, where I interviewed Ross from Trellis and we broke down where in your business life cycle and what investment levels you should be looking at for custom theme design. 

So we'll link to that in the show notes. But here's the thing guys, I know these answers before I asked them because I've been interviewing people now for 2 and a half years on a lot of the same topics. So it's a pretty loaded question. 

But, I know that when you're going into more of the enterprise space --you're like $10 million-- that's when you're going to be going full bore on a quarter million dollar website design. 

And still those designs are... I ordered from 5 different Ecommerce stores for gifts for myself for Christmas, 4 of them were on Shopify Plus, and one of them was on Magento. So out of these 5 major brands, all of them are using off the shelf solutions.

Ryan Lunka  

Yeah. And that's because... Again, the vast majority of businesses... The basics apply or  even... The second called the novice, the second level functions apply. They're pretty universal. 

You will see heavy customization if you have something really unique about your product catalog. So I worked with a merchant one time that sold vintage weaponry. So it was all really the attribute structure was really really strange. The matrix structures that they had for him were really strange...

Chase Clymer  

Are we talking [about] Civil War memorabilia? 

Ryan Lunka  

Yeah. That kind of stuff. Vintage rifles where there's 30 of a kind. That weird stuff tends to  require heavier customization, both for the theme itself because you have to articulate more complex information, but also just the functionality about how product attribution and navigation works can be a little more complicated. 

I've worked with merchants that sell diamond rings. That's another one that's really, really complicated, because your diamond is unique. 

It's a serialized item and then you have a configurable assembly item, which is put this ring together with this setting, and then this unique diamond itself so that that kind of stuff can require pretty heavy customization. 

But again, that's a minority of the use cases out there. 

Chase Clymer  

Yeah. But there's something I want to point out with both of those examples. And probably a lot of the other examples that we could bring to mind. 

Those heavier customized product pages and journeys and experiences that we're building out there are to help sell a very expensive product online. And it's hard to duplicate the power of a salesperson in-person. 

And I would argue that a lot of those product pages are built in a way to almost be catalogue-y and have someone call in to get their answers and then finish up again online. 

Ryan Lunka  

Yeah. A lot of ways they are. And that's I'm not sure how much of your audience sells B2B. But it's a similar story in B2B commerce where you know, the Ecommerce website isn't really supposed to be --in the best case-- a replacement to the salesperson. 

It's supposed to be a compliment to the salesperson, and it sort of works hand in hand with that personal relationship that you have with the person who now doesn't have to push paper purchase orders around to take your large scale orders...

Chase Clymer  

Yeah. 

Ryan Lunka  

[It's a] similar kind of idea. 

Chase Clymer  

Yeah. I've seen a lot of B2B websites have great success with just building a direct-to-consumer website knowing it's gonna do nothing for them. 

But it allows people that are buyers from other businesses to navigate in a way that they are already familiar with by navigating through the Walmarts and the Targets and the Amazons

They're like, "Oh, I get how this works." And so you've just made a very, very easy to use brochure for your salesman to go out and just sell more. 

Ryan Lunka  

Oh yeah. For sure. Yeah. It's crazy to me that some of the older and [have been] out there for a while B2B sites for maybe distributor or manufacturer or somebody like that are often designed so far away from the regular practice as you'd expect to see on a product browsing experience. 

Everybody in the world is using Amazon. It's not a pretty site but you know exactly where to go to find exactly what you need. And it's a huge product catalog. 

And people who don't think they're an Ecommerce company, forget those fundamentals and often don't apply them to their own website just because they don't think that the same thing. 

Chase Clymer  

Yeah. It's become second nature, web browsing, to people. So you gotta follow best practices. It's only going to help.

Ryan Lunka  

Oh yeah. Yep. 

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Chase Clymer  

Alright, so we beat the topic to death. You don't go custom from the get go. And then even at the top, you're still probably not going custom. But a lot of these platforms... 

Shopify specifically has this entire giant app ecosystem. And so how do I navigate that? What should I be looking for when I want to add extended functionalities into my website? What is the sign of a good app, I guess? 

Ryan Lunka  

Yeah, I'm going to talk out of both sides of my mouth here, because I'm going to say you're not unique enough to customize. 

But I'm also going to say at the same time, there's no such thing as one technology that is perfect and going to solve all of your problems. And I don't care what their salesperson tells you. It does not exist. 

So where that leads you is "Okay. I'm not supposed to build something to meet my... What I view is unique business needs or my needs that are somewhat unique or somewhat custom to what I need for my business. And there's nothing that I can go by that does it all more than likely. So what do I do?" 

And that's where you have to understand the technology ecosystems that are available out there. And especially the big ones like your ecommerce platforms, your ERPs, your warehouse management systems, etc... 

Open API's so that you can assemble a bunch of best practice technologies that achieve chunks of your business requirements. And you can kludge them together in one platform that meets all of your needs. 

Chase Clymer  

Absolutely. So again, [for] a lot of the listeners here on Shopify, just use Shopify and then (laughs)... The app... The thing you need to know about Shopify... And this is what I think people kind of get annoyed by the same term, I guess. I don't know. 

I'm just now talking in circles. Okay. Shopify does one thing well, and that is sell a product to an end customer. Any sort of other extended functionality... There's some things that come with Core Shopify, but Shopify has drawn a line in the sand where they're saying, "We are focusing on this core product, selling a thing to a customer." 

Any other functionality that you want, any more extended kind of usability, they are leaving up to the app ecosystem and their partners in the ecosystem. And that's because Shopify understands what they do really, really well and it is that core product. 

That is that hosted Ecommerce solution from product listing to check out, all of that core stuff is what Shopify focuses on. 

So then, when you want to do things like subscription or automated email marketing, or you expand upon the capabilities of your gift card solution. All of those are left to partners in the ecosystem. And there are a lot to choose from. 

Ryan Lunka  

Yeah, so it's interesting. That's newer... I say newer, maybe the last 10 years approach that the leading software companies take. 

If you look at Shopify, if you look at Salesforce, if you look at HubSpot, these big "gorillas" in their ecosystems, they don't take the old school, I'll call it IBM --to throw some shade at an older company-- approach of "We're gonna build everything. You're going to buy everything from us. And we're going to make it a little bit difficult for you to make our stuff play with anybody else's stuff." 

Shopify, for instance, knows that they're not going to be able to build or even try to build every single possible capability in a best practice way. 

So what they do is they provide, 1, a really, really strong API, and then 2, a marketplace where their customers/merchants can go find all the other add-ons and integrations and other business products that they're going to need to run that business so they have a one stop shop and they don't have to go googling around looking for these things. 

And then they cultivate a Partner ecosystem where they actually support all these other companies who build their businesses on providing value, add products value, add services around Shopify. 

If you have an idea, for instance, about "Oh, here's a capability that Shopify merchants probably want that isn't available out of the box. And I don't really see anything else providing." 

It takes 20 minutes to sign up to have a Shopify partner account, and have the facilities to write up your application, build it, deploy it out to their app store and start making money on it. 

It takes very, very little time, because they've removed all the barriers to entry, because they know that's how they have all the best tools on the market available that play with their system. 

Chase Clymer  

Well, I do want to put the asterisk in it. Launching the app and joining the partner system doesn't take much time. Building the app on the other hand...

Ryan Lunka  

Well yeah, that's a whole different thing. (laughs)

Chase Clymer  

Essentially what the topic of this conversation is, it's difficult. That is time consuming. And people get caught up in minutiae. And they don't want to launch lean and have an MVP, which is the only way to do it. 

Ryan Lunka  

True. My point was less that the products are easy to build and more that Shopify says "Yes, build them. We're gonna remove every barrier from you possibly, being able to put it into our ecosystem once you have it built. 

Because we know that if we have a whole ecosystem of really, really awesome value-added products that are compatible with Shopify, that just benefits our customers who are now our mutual customers, and we continue to win."

Chase Clymer  

Yeah, I think that's something that Shopify did extremely well when they were coming up. And I think they might have borrowed it from WordPress, because the WordPress plugin ecosystem is a monster. 

And that is something I will give to all the WordPress people out there. The WordPress ecosystem and the solutions available for doing WooCommerce, there are a lot of them. I am just not a fan of non-hosted solutions. 

And WooCommerce is a plugin in it of itself, like WordPress is built for blogging. It's not built for Ecommerce. And that's my two cents. But I will give it to you that there is a lot of extended functionality out there and their ecosystem. 

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Ryan Lunka  

So circling back to your original question or point... I remember how we started here. So you have taken Shopify, and then you have this huge ecosystem of all these add ons, all these other third party applications, all these other things that you can buy to put together to build your tech stack.

So now the key becomes how do you figure out which ones are the right ones? Let's say for instance, email marketing, there's a whole bunch of different email marketing solutions out there that have varying levels of capability to integrate with Shopify. 

And they have uniqueness about how they do email marketing versus the other one, which one are you supposed to use? How do you make sure it plays nicely with your marketing platform if you're doing any kind of analytics tracking and things like that? 

If you have customer data in any ERP or somewhere else that you want to have factored into your email marketing, how do you tie all these pieces together? 

That becomes the challenge you have to face now that I told you you can't build your software. And you're not going to find one thing that does everything. 

Chase Clymer  

Yeah. So I am a merchant and we've proven our product-market fit worked. We're chugging along and we're starting to evaluate some more extended functionalities. Is there a telltale sign of a solution maybe better than others? Are there things I should be watching out for? 

Ryan Lunka  

I am biased toward anybody that has well documented openly available API's. And as a merchant, you're more likely than not uninterested or maybe you don't even have the technical chops necessary to know what that API does or how it works or something like that. 

Chase Clymer  

Well, okay. Let me let me double down there. Why is having that open access to an API important? 

Ryan Lunka  

Exactly. Because when you have an open API, that means you are also taking this open platform approach, similar to what Shopify is doing. 

Now, that ancillary technology probably doesn't have the market presence, or the cap table, or the cash flow that Shopify does. So they don't have the clout to build their own marketplace all the time and have that weight to throw around. 

But they are viewing themselves as "We know we're a value add service to other products that exist out there so we're making it as easy as possible for us to be plugged into your tech stack, so that you can use us along with a bunch of other things that do things that we don't do."

Chase Clymer  

I just want to... I guess we've never really clarified what a tech stack is. So let's just explain that I guess to some of the listeners that might be younger in their journey. 

Ryan Lunka  

Yeah. Sure. Tech stack, we talked about it already, we just didn't call it a tech stack. All of the technologies you have to have that you piece together to run your business is the tech stack. That's the term people throw around for it.

So like I said, You're not just gonna have Shopify. You're gonna have Shopify, and you're gonna run your accounting on a QuickBooks or if you're a little more mature, something like NetSuite. You're gonna have some system somewhere that probably collects your orders and runs your warehouse or if you're using a third party logistics provider, they're using it. 

You're going to have different tools for marketing, you're going to have different tools for customer engagement... There's all sorts of different things you're going to use on a daily basis. I say this a lot to our customers. 

There was a study done in 2019, I think, --so it's probably actually gone up since then-- that said, the average business user actually uses 8+pieces of software just in their daily workflow every single day. 

So that's what it looks like to the end user, the merchant... All those things that you're using to get your job done. That's your tech stack.

Chase Clymer  

Awesome. And this is going to transition. So well, I just realized what we're going to end on here. So I'm using these 8 pieces of software. And I took your advice, and they all have open API's. 

And I'm allowed to... So we can use that to our advantage. And you mentioned that... So we're using eight things in my workflow every day. 

Ryan Lunka  

Mm-hmm. 

Chase Clymer  

Having access to these API's, how does that help my workflow? 

Ryan Lunka  

Yeah. So basically, those pieces of software need to pass data back and forth to, I'll say, complete your business process. 

So you got 8 pieces of software in front of you, you have 1 business process, you have one thing you need to do: fulfill an order, for instance. You don't really care or it's not really that important for you as the person getting that job done that these are separate pieces of software. 

That's really... It's a friction point for you. So what you want is the most seamless what we call "Inter-product Experience" for doing your job. The way that happens is that product A passes data to product B effectively and product B passes to product C effectively all in a way that automates or facilitates you getting your job done across these different products. 

The way software passes data to one another is through API's. That's the plumbing underneath the UI that you see on your screen that moves data. Take an order, for instance. 

Takes an order from an Ecommerce product like Shopify and puts it into an order fulfillment system that's a different piece of software. That happens through API's. 

Chase Clymer  

Yeah. And so I guess we should clarify now. If you're doing 20-30 orders a day, it's not hard to batch those at the end of the day, print them out and take them to the warehouse. But if you are moving to 500-1000 orders a day, things get a little more tricky. Things can get lost in the shuffle. Any time that there is a human element in that process is an opportunity for error. 

Ryan Lunka  

Oh absolutely. And it's stuff that no human really wants to do anyway. Does anybody want to triple check the 500 orders every day to make sure there were no errors? Or do you just want to let a computer do it? 

The computer, as long as you tell it to do it correctly will always do it correctly. And then you can take that same person and have them spend time on work value added work for your business. 

Chase Clymer  

Absolutely. So what are... I guess let's end on what Blended Edge is up to these days. What kinds of problems are you solving for your clients these days? 

Ryan Lunka  

Yeah. If you look at the use case we just talked about right where a business user/a merchant has to have multiple pieces of software in their tech stack that all needs to play nicely together, pass data back and forth across one another read between one of those API's to let you do your job as a merchant. 

Where we come in is we help those software companies more effectively do that because a lot of them either don't have time to do it well, or don't have time to make their API's able to share data. 

Well, I don't really know how the best ways to do it are, so they create features for passing data around API's that don't work that well or don't serve your needs as a merchant. There's a lot of different challenges that those software companies run into. and we help them overcome those challenges. 

So any software that you've ever used that just seamlessly plays nicely with anything else in your ecosystem or in your tech stack --sorry-- that is something... That is a company who has been able to deal with these things in our best practice approach. And we help these software companies do that. 

Chase Clymer  

Awesome. And I guess the one thing I do want to point out is with all these API's, having them access to it is one thing, but then the way that the data is served in and out is always ridiculously different. 

Ryan Lunka  

Oh yeah. 

Chase Clymer  

So that's something I guess we should highlight that there's no best practice on how the data should look or be handled or be displayed, which just adds to the wonkiness of trying to make things talk nicely. 

Ryan Lunka  

Yep. To overly simplify it, there's 2 ways that data movement happens. One is what I would call just a native integration or a product integration. And that is product A takes Shopify just talks directly to product B. 

It knows how to interact with the  product via the API. [When a] thing happens in product A and event checkout an order or whatever. It just passes directly to product B. 

The other approach though, is to use an integration platform where there's sometimes called an iPaaS which is integration platform as a service. 

Chase Clymer  

I've also heard lately, people have been referring to it as a middleware.

Ryan Lunka  

Yeah. Middleware, or sometimes you hear automation platform, too. A lot of them are trying to get away from the word integration and they'll call themselves an automation platform. 

But really all that is, is another piece of software that sits in the middle. And it's sole job is to be that bridge between all the technologies.

So take data out of this one, put it into this one, then put it into this one and automate data flows between different systems. And knowing when to use something like that...

And it can be something as simple as Zapier or something as sophisticated as Workato versus knowing when to use a native, direct, point to point product integration is as much art as it is science. 

And that's sort of what we help the software companies navigate through. But it's also something that a merchant has to navigate through, as well, as you're thinking about your tech stack. 

Do you want to have this centralized integration thing that moves your data around? Or does it make more sense to have things that talk to one another natively? And likely, it's going to be some combination of both. 

Chase Clymer  

Absolutely. Now, I think for merchants listening, I would just say you're probably going to be on Plus and probably more approaching the enterprise things when a company like Ryan's might be useful to reach out to. 

So if they're feeling the pain points or if they're trying to currently work with an integration with a software company that's in their stack, and they need some help. How do they get a hold of you?

Ryan Lunka  

Easiest place is just blendededge.com. That's our website. You can fill out a form there. We're a small company. It goes to my inbox, so you'll get a hold of me. 

I'm on LinkedIn and Twitter too. If you want to track me down, you just might get some random rants about Cleveland sports if you're on Twitter. 

But we're pretty easy to track down and what's frustrating is integration and API and data movement is for, I would say, the majority of the population.

This is what we live and breathe every day. So we are always jazzed to talk about it. Here are the problems. Here's what's going well. 

Hear about new ways people solve some of these problems. There's actually a pretty interesting ecosystem of things happening here as well that we always love to hear about. 

Chase Clymer  

Awesome. Thank you so much for coming on today.

Ryan Lunka 

Thank you.

Chase Clymer  

I cannot thank our guests enough for coming on the show and sharing their journey and knowledge with us today. We've got a lot to think about and potentially add to our businesses. Links and more information will be available in the show notes as well. 

If anything in this podcast resonated with you and your business, feel free to reach out and learn more at electriceye.io/connect. Also, make sure you subscribe and leave an amazing review. Thank you!